Wuthering Heights - a lecture by John Vernon Lord
Wuthering Heights is the only novel written by Emily Brontë, first
published in 1847. It is a wild, violent and tempestuous story about
love and vengeance and it is set among the wind-blasted moors of Yorkshire.
The novel is dominated by Heathcliff, a passionate and embittered soul
whose vindictive spirit finally burns itself out at the end. Hundreds
of books and articles have been written about the novel - from fastidious
deconstruction exercises to Marxist essays. Even the Goon Spike Milligan
has written his own zany 118-paged version of it. For my short talk
this evening we will examine how three or four illustrators and film
makers have tackled the same episode from the novel. The particular
episode I have chosen is the pivotal section of the first part of the
novel (Chapter 9) when Cathy intimates to Nelly Dean that, although
she intends to marry Edgar Linton, it is really Heathcliff who she loves.
Cathy is not aware that Heathcliff overhears the first part of her conversation
Synopsis of the `pivotal `episode in Chapter 9
The scene is set in the rural Victorian kitchen of Wuthering Heights,
a large house situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors. Fifteen-year-old
Cathy Earnshaw joins the maidservant Nelly (who is possibly in her early
20s) while she is singing young Hareton Earnshaw to sleep. At first
Nelly didn't think Heathcliff was within earshot but she realised later
that he had only gone as far as the other side of the settle and had
flung himself on a bench by the wall. Cathy intimated to Nelly that
she could not marry Heathcliff now that he had become so degraded by
her brother Hindley, who had become a drunken savage. Just as she mentioned
that Heathcliff had become `degraded' Nelly became aware of Heathcliff's
presence and she turned her head `and saw him rise from the bench, and
steal out noiselessly'. Cathy couldn't see him at the time because she
was sitting on the floor and her view was blocked by the back of the
settle which Nelly was sitting on. Cathy and Nelly continue to discuss
matters with Cathy emphasising her real love for Heathcliff ("Nelly,
I am Heathcliff!" etc). At the end of the conversation Cathy hid
her face into the folds of Nelly's gown, but the servant jerked her
forcibly away, since she was was out of patience with her. Joseph, the
grumpy manservant of the household, arrives on the scene and the three
of them wondered where Heathcliff had disappeared to when supper was
ready. Nelly told Cathy that she thought that Heathcliff may have heard
a good part of what they had been talking about earlier. Cathy became
agitated and worried about what Heathcliff might do. Finally She searched
for him during a stormy night. But Heathcliff didn't return for several
A comment on the narrators
The story is told through the eyes (sometimes blinkered) and minds of
two narrators - Mr Lockwood and Ellen (`Nelly') Dean. The point of view
shifts from Lockwood to Nelly and time moves from the present to the
past and returns to the present. Lockwood is the voice of the `present'
and an `outsider', while Nelly is the voice of the `past' and an `insider'.
Readers will realise the shortcomings of the narrators which enables
them to form their own understanding of the characters and events. Lockwood
is the principal narrator. He is a city gentleman from the south, somewhat
priggish and a superficial dandy type. Nelly Dean is a housekeeper who
has lived through most of the events described. She is a Yorkshire lass
with homespun philosophy. She is the best person to `tell the story'
because she is confidante to most of the main characters (who in turn
narrate personal events to her during the course of the narrative).
Indeed there are quite a number of passages of narrative from the other
characters (ie Catherine's diary in Chapter 3; Heathcliff's account
of a visit to Thrushcross Grange in Chapter 6; a short passage from
Catherine in Chapter 12; Isabella Linton's letter to Nelly Dean and
a later narrative of her life at the Heights in Chapter 17; the younger
Catherine's narrative in Chapter 24; a short passage from Heathcliff
in Chapter 29; another short passage, this time from the servant Zillah
in Chapter 30. So we get an interesting balance of narrative voices
from a range individual characters and sometimes different versions
of the same event. Nelly Dean, then, transmits the story to Lockwood,
who reports it in her own words, sometimes interposing sections of the
narrative in his own voice in Chapters 31 and 32 and at the novel's
Summary (up till the end of Chapter 9).
Mr Lockwood (the principal narrator) visits Wuthering Heights and is
received inhospitably by Heathcliff and the other inhabitants. Lockwood
is resolved to make a return visit the next day.
Lockwood visits Wuthering Heights the next day and tries to fathom out
the relationships between the inhabitants. He is gruffly treated again
but is forced to stay there overnight because of a heavy snow fall.
Lockwood finds a diary of Catherine Earnshaw and reads it. In one of
his nightmares he dreams of smashing the bedroom window and having his
hand grasped by the ghost of `Catherine Linton'. He awakens Heathcliff
and tells him about the nightmare. Lockwood witnesses Heathcliff's desperate
attempt to restore the ghost. Lockwood returns to his rented house Thrushcross
Grange, accompanied by his landlord Heathcliff.
Lockwood's Housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange (which is two miles away
from Wuthering Heights) is Nelly Dean. She takes over the narrative
for most of the novel and tells the curious Lockwood how the waif Heathcliff
was first brought from Liverpool to Wuthering Heights by old Mr Earnshaw.
Hindley (Earnshaw's son) resented the new arrival but Catherine (Earnshaw's
daughter) struck up a bond with Heathcliff.
Ellen Dean's narrative continues, telling of the very close relationship
between Heathcliff and Catherine while Hindley is away at college. We
learn of the servant Joseph's gruff moralising, and the death of Mr
Hindley Earnshaw (now married to Frances) becomes the master of Wuthering
Heights and he banishes Nelly, Joseph and Heathcliff to the servants'
quarters. At midnight (just after the event he subsequently describes)
Heathcliff tells Nelly about a recent escapade on the moors with Catherine
when they came across Thrushcross Grange and watched the Linton family
through the window. A bull dog was set on them and Catherine was bitten
on the ankle. The Lintons, wanting to make amends when they discovered
it was Catherine, invited her in the house and made a fuss of her. Heathcliff
was refused entry and told to go back to Wuthering Heights on his own.
Catherine convalesced at Thrushcross Grange for five weeks. She has
transformed from 'Tom' boy to young lady, while Heathcliff had been
treated badly in her absence. The Lintons visit Wuthering Heights at
Christmas and a remark by Edgar Linton irritates Heathcliff, causing
him to throw hot apple sauce over him. Hindley treats Heathcliff roughly
and locks him in his attic bedroom without Christmas dinner. Heathcliff
swears to Nelly that he will pay Hindley back. At this point Nelly Dean
breaks off her narrative for a moment but is persuaded by Lockwood to
Hareton Earnshaw is born to Hindley and Frances; the mother dying of
tuberculosis soon afterwards. Hindley becomes dissipated and cruel after
her death and ill-treats Heathcliff, who in turn becomes savage. Joseph
and Nelly Dean are now the only servants at Wuthering Heights and Nelly
becomes nursemaid to Hareton. Cathy is now a beautiful 15-year old,
becoming a somewhat headstrong and haughty adolescent. She lives a double
life, being a polite lady in the society of the Lintons at Thrushcross
Grange but resorting to bossy and bad-tempered behaviour at home in
Wuthering Heights. She has less time for Heathcliff who becomes hurt
by her negligence of him and surly.
One day Edgar Linton visits Cathy at the Heights. She is in a bad mood,
having had an argument with Heathcliff and taking it out on Nelly. She
loses her temper, smacking Nelly in the face, shaking the baby Hareton
and cuffing Edgar. Shocked at all this Edgar tried to leave at this
point but Cathy made up to him and they became avowed lovers. Edgar
returns to Thrushcross Grange.
*Chapter 9 (the one that concerns us this evening)
That night Hindley comes home drunk and dangles his little son Hareton
over the bannister and drops him, being distracted by Heathcliff's arrival.
Heathcliff, `by a natural impulse' catches the baby as he was falling.
The angry Nelly grabs the baby and nurses him in the kitchen. Cathy
(who had been in her own room during the fracas) enters the kitchen
to join Nelly while she was lulling the baby to sleep with a song. At
this point in time Nelly (who is narrating the event herself) states
that she thought Heathcliff had walked through to the barn. But she
realised later, however, that he had only gone as far as the other side
of the settle and flung himself on a bench by the wall which was removed
from the fire. Cathy told Nelly, in secret, that Edgar Linton had asked
her to marry him. After some discussion about it Cathy wants to know
if Nelly thinks it is the right thing to do. Nelly reckons that of she
loves Edgar, and he her, all would seem to be smooth and easy.
"Where is the obstacle?" Nelly asks her.
"Here and here!" replied Catherine, striking one hand on her
forehead, and the other on her breast: "in which ever place the
soul lives. In my soul and in my heart, I'm convinced I'm wrong'.
Cathy then explained, through recounting a dream, that she could not
marry Heathcliff now that he had become so degraded by Hindley. She
goes on to say to Nelly -
"It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never
know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but
because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of,
his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam
from lightening, or frost from fire".
At this point Nelly became aware of Heathcliff's presence and she turned
her head -
"and saw him rise from the bench, and steal out noiselessly. He
had listened till he heard Catherine say it would degrade her to marry
At this point Heathcliff got up and slipped out into the stormy night
and disappeared. Cathy was prevented from seeing him because she was
sitting on the floor and her view was blocked by the high back of the
settle which Nelly was sitting on.Cathy and Nelly continue to discuss
the pros and cons of Cathy's proposed marriage to Edgar Linton and she
makes it clear how deeply she loves Heathcliff . Cathy speaks the famous
lines, which Heathcliff never heard -
` "My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will
change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for
Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible
delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always
in my mind, not as a pleasure, any more as I am always a pleasure to
myself, but as my on being. So don't talk of our separation again; it
is impractical; and -" She paused, and hid her face in the folds
of my gown, but I jerked it forcibly away. I was out of patience with
Joseph enters and when supper had been prepared they all wondered where
Heathcliff had gone. Nelly told Cathy that Heathcliff had heard a good
part of what they had been talking about earlier. Cathy is in a state
and is fearful of what Heathcliff might do, having overheard the earlier
conversation she had had with Nelly. She searches for him during the
night and gets soaked in the stormy weather. Next day she is taken ill
with a fever and Heathcliff doesn't return for several years.
Some illustrators of Wuthering Heights
age when published illustrator/Artist dates of birth & death published
Percy Tarrant 1880 - 1930 44
Clare Leighton 1901- ? 30
C.E. Brock 1870 - 1938 63
Balthus 1908 25
Barnet Freedman 1901-1958 39
F. Eichenberg ?
Anthony Gross 1905 - 42
W. Stein ?
Charles Keeping 1924 - ? 40
Arthur Wragg 1903 - ? 63
Films of Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights US, 1939, 104 minutes, black &
white, Samuel Goldwyn
writer - Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur from Emily Brontë's
novel, director - William Wyler, director of photography - Gregg Toland
music - Alfred Newman, art director - James Basevi. Cast - Laurence
Olivier, Merle Oberon, David Niven, Hugh Williams, Flora Robson, Geraldine
Fitzgerald, Donald Crisp, Leo G. Carroll, Cecil Kellaway, Miles Mander.
`The much-filmed tale about Cathy's passion for Heathcliff succeeds
as fulsome melodrama; and while it has little to do with Emily Brontë's
sense of environment and pre-Victorian society, it's nevertheless strong
on performances - especially Olivier, seen her at the peak of his romantic
lead period'. We will see an epiode from this film. The film was given
a three star rating by Halliwell's Film Guide.
de pasien (Cumbres borrascosas/Wuthering Heights) Mexico, 1953,
90 minutes, black & white,director - Luis Buñuel, Cast -
Jorge Mistral, Irasema Dilian, Lilia Prado, Ernesto Alonso, Luis Aceves
`While it's certainly true that Emily Brontë's classic novel appealed
strongly to the Surrealists, with the love between Heathcliff and Cathy
an almost textbook case of l'amour fou, it must be said that much of
Buñuel's adaptation is surprisingly lifeless, a fact perhaps
attributable largely to the severe shortcomings of his lead actors.
Despite impressive use of arid locations, and numerous Buñuelian
`touches' depicting man's capacity for cruelty and violence, it's only
in the final moments when Alejandro/Heathcliff, consumed with passion,
breaks into Catarina's funeral vault for one more kiss, that the director
appears fully engaged with his material'.
Wuthering Heights GB, 1970, 105 minutes, Movielab,
AIP (John Pellatt)
writer - Patrick Tilley from Emily Bronte's novel, director - Robert
Fuest, director of photography - John Coquillon, music - Michel Legrand.
Cast - Anna Calder-Marshall, Timothy Dalton, Harry Andrews, Pamela Brown,
Judy Cornwell, James Cossins, Rosalie Crutchley, Julian Glover, Hugh
Griffith, Ian Ogilvy, & Aubrey Woods.
It looks like a good cast of actors but I haven't seen this version
myself Halliwell's Film Guide (1993, 9th edition.) reckoned it to be
disappointing and gave it a single star rating. The film isn't given
a mention in Time Out.
Wuthering Heights US, 1992, 106 minutes, colour, UIP/Paramount
writer - Anne Devlin from Emily Brontë's novel, director - Peter
Kospinsky, director of photography - Mike Southon, music - Ryuichi Sakamoto,
production designer - Brian Morris, film editor - Tony Lawson. Cast
- Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Janet McTeer, Sophie Ward, Simon
Shepherd, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington, Simon Ward, John Woodvine.
We will be looking at extracts from this version and you can judge for
yourself what you think about it.
Film Guide doesn't give it any stars in its rating. `Where the film
falls down is in confining itself too much to gloomy rooms, thus failing
to point up the contrast between imprisoning social conventions and
the pagan pleasures of the moors ... A brave stab, but it doesn't always
pierce the heart'.